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Munich
2005 - R - 167 Mins.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Producer: Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Barry Mendel, Colin Wilson
Written By: Tony Kushner
Starring: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Ciar
Review by: Ben Samara
Official Site: www.munichmovie.com/
   

Planning for vengeance
Looking back, it often seems as though the minute Clint Eastwood walked off the stage last March with the Academy Award for Best Picture, the buzz began to swirl about Steven Spielberg's "Munich". In many circles, the 'Untitled 1972 Munich Olympics Project' was erroneously considered a lock to take home the big prize before principal photography had even begun. The expectations were lofty to be sure, and perhaps it’s that immense anticipation that ultimately proves to be "Munich's" downfall.

This is not to say that "Munich" is a bad film. It's actually a very solid effort and definitely worth seeing. Spielberg’s second attempt of the year to resonate with post-9/11 America is much more admirable than his first, "War of the Worlds", but because of the expectations many have heaped upon this film, it will be held at a higher standard than the rest.

"Munich" tells the story of the events following the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. On one horrific night, eleven Israeli Olympians are taken hostage and eventually killed by a Palestinian organization known as Black September. In an attempt at swift retaliation, the Israeli government decides to systematically eliminate the Palestinians responsible for the killings. They recruit Avner (Eric Bana), an Israeli Mossad agent who takes the job despite leaving behind a pregnant wife. He and his team of specialists (Daniel Craig, Ciarán Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz and Hanns Zischler) set out on their mission, only to find that the job isn’t as easy as it seems, tactically or mentally.

This could have been the role of a lifetime for Bana, who is solid but never really able to stand out or take advantage the stage he's been given. His performance probably comes off somewhat flat because the material is essentially that way as well. There are a few memorable moments here and there, but most of the time Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner aren’t clear about who their audience is or what "Munich" is trying to say on the whole.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Kushner has done much better. In "Munich", there are several predictable and clichéd moments that dilute the effect of the material. For instance, as Avner and his crew go to take out one of their early targets with a phone bomb, the target's young daughter picks up the phone instead. What are our protagonists to do? Well, probably the same thing they do in every movie where this happens. Even 'Scarface' himself, Tony Montana, wouldn’t kill children. What are you trying to say?

"Munich" is certainly masterful in its technical approach, though. Although Spielberg’s direction is somewhat disappointing in a few areas, it borders on perfection during the scenes where Avner and his crew take out their targets. As the camera zooms in on individual faces and pans out to the big picture, you truly get a sense of what these men are feeling. It’s hectic, it’s harsh and it feels authentic.

In addition, Spielberg's resident cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, comes through with his best work since 1998’s Saving Private Ryan. Kaminski won his second Academy Award that year, and he’s poised to receive a third trophy for this film. Here, he teams with Spielberg to create a gritty and surreal portrait of 1972, down to the last detail. The tone is appropriately muted, swiftly transporting us back to the decade, but not distracting us from the task at hand.

Usually, if you were to throw an original score by John Williams on top of it all you’d be in technical heaven. Unfortunately, "Munich" is Williams' most uninspired effort in years, especially compared to his gripping score for "Memoirs of a Geisha". The score for "Munich" is dull and never stands out, although maybe it's not supposed to. Still, Williams’ talents seem wasted here.

Throw all these elements in the pot for consideration and you have a mix of good and some bad. Ultimately, this is a respectable movie, not a magnificent one. Spielberg does manage to convey his message – killing for killing only begets more killing – and it is a potent one. Still, what is the point? What is the solution? If there is none, then why did Spielberg strive so hard to get this particular message across?

Many critics and Spielberg fan-boys will hail this as the best of the year and as a masterpiece simply because they want to like it so much, because the thrill of anticipation has left them largely in denial. It may even get its Oscar nomination for Best Picture, but it doesn’t deserve it. It’s entertaining and it's better than a lot of movies from 2005, but it’s no "Schindler's List" or "Saving Private Ryan". This isn’t anywhere near Spielberg’s best work. Just because a film is supposed to be Oscar-caliber doesn’t mean it is. And just because it is supposed to be incredibly meaningful doesn't mean it will be. Perhaps, if the production of "Munich" had flown under the radar this year, the film could have flourished as a psychological thriller. Instead, it comes off as an above-average movie masquerading as an Oscar shoe in.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

 
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